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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Yuppies and Hilljacks and a whole lot of changes

Living in a town that is built around the third largest lake in Indiana (is that like the third largest mountain in Michigan, ha ha?) is a trip sometimes. The natives vary wildly:

Farmers - Yes, there are lots of farms surrounding the town, mostly corn and soybeans although there are some horse farms, too. We are about 1-15 miles from major shopping areas but we are kind of out in the boondocks, too. There are plenty of kids who grow up here entering animals in 4-H fairs and driving tractors long before ever getting behind the wheel of a car. Farming hasn't been easy in the last few decades, the ones who still do it are smart and efficient and/or they just love to do it. Our housing development is surrounded by trees and wetlands but go just a half-mile North or West and you hit farmers fields.

Yuppies - We are a bedroom community for Chicago (less than 50 miles away), so many young families get the good jobs in Chicago and come across the Indiana state line for the better housing and taxes and schools. Chicago is a Democratic stronghold and some of the new people that move in are surprised to find that it is only in the north half of the county that the Dem machine holds sway. Political races tend to go to the best candidate in our part of the county. Much more interesting, that! Anyway, the North and West sides of our little town are now dominated by new housing developments. I must admit that we inhabit one of them ourselves. But we are too old to be Yuppies and have less than the average bank account within the confines of our little gated community, I am sure. Yeah, it is a gated community. But no one guards the gates yet. When the all the houses are built and there are enough owners paying the Homeowners dues, then we probably will have guards, oh joy!

Hilljacks/Hillers - Yes, a very politically incorrect name, I know. Today I saw a pickup truck and the owner had found some kind of vinyl trim to put around the bottom of his truck and also around the pickup bed and around his doors. The trim looked like a closeup of....scattered straw! You ever see straw thrown down in a horse stall? Just like that. As trim. For his truck! For every Yuppie-driven SUV on the streets around here there is an old pickup truck, very possibly brush-painted and likely with some kind of NASCAR sticker or something about fishing or duck-hunting.

In duck season the lake will have a few floating blinds and occasionally the sounds of shotguns fill the air. There are houses in the old neighborhoods with extra cars that don't work, naturally. There are some houses that are so close to each other than you can place a hand on the outside walls of each of them by putting your arms straight out!

Historical Note - The reason some of the houses are so close is that they used to be rental cottages, back in the days when two train lines stopped in town bringing vacationers down from Chicago, one station on each side of the lake. There was a massive hotel on both the East and West sides plus many hundreds of small wooden cottages. Then came the depression and the improved Chicago lakefront and the popularity of Wisconsin getaways. Also, the automobile became popular and the train far less so. Down came the rail stations and the hotels eventually closed. But the cottages, mostly not even insulated, became cheap housing and poorer families moved in. Thus, near the lake many of the homes are simply expanded shacks, often ramshackle (love that word!) excuses for homes that are too close and too cheap. So our town has its rich folks and its poor folks in large numbers.

The rest of us guys - We are longtime residents of the area who finally were able to upgrade our housing. We aren't rich. Our newest vehicle is a 1999, neat to be sure, but getting older. There are of course lots of the middle class folks in this town.

People of color - You don't find them around here. A lot of it is the Hilljack factor, since there seem to be plenty of rednecks around. Not just the good ole boys that you can play horseshoes with and shoot the breeze, but the haters who use the "N" word and send threatening messages to families of the "wrong" color who move into their neighborhoods. It sickens me to think of it, but I know for sure one family that moved in didn't last a year because of threats. This was in the older areas near the lake. Now we have one black family living in our development that I know of and no one seems to be hassling them so maybe change will slowly come to our town. I am ashamed of this aspect of life here. We are just a few miles away from a KKK stronghold, reputed to have disbanded and moved away but I am sure they simply have gone underground.

Weekenders - We still get lots of weekenders but now they hook up the boat to the Envoy, haul it down to one of the upscale boat launch areas, cruise the lake all day and then go home in the early evening. Few stay overnight here. During a nice weekend day the lake is full of sailboats and powerboats, houseboats, a few small fishing boats and the inevitable jet skis. Good thing it is a big lake because a huge lot of boat show up. Evenings on the weekends the roads are crowded with SUV-drawn boats towering over the other traffic.


Bikers - There was an infamous biker gang that was headquartered nearby and had an outpost right in town. When I first moved here, the most popular business establishments in town were the bars. The bikers had one place that was a converted lakeside hotel and they would be parked outside, drinking, revving up loud bikes, causing commotions until the early morning hours on weekend nights. The police didn't seem to be willing to deal with it all. This biker gang was supposedly hooked up with much of the drug traffic and prostitution in the area. Things have changed. Half the bars in town have been torn down or converted into something else. The biker place was shuttered and they were "encouraged" to hang around somewhere else. Out of town. Permanently.

Gentrification - Which brings me to the "G" word. Much of the lakefront has changed, with older houses being remodeled or torn down. A large line of condominiums dominate one side of the lake now, with a gated entrance to the parking area and a guard shack. The original old school was torn down, the second and third school buildings remodeled and another grade school built. There is a brand new library. There is a brand new shopping district, so much so that we almost have an actual downtown. There are still hundreds of the old cottage-shacks standing, most of which cannot be seen from the main road, but you see that change is in the air. Money is coming in, expansion is happening, things are changing.

Change is good - I hate lots of traffic and dealing with zillions of traffic lights and so on. There are only three traffic lights in the entire town and one of them is on a major highway that skirts us rather than passing through. There is only one grocery store. I can still go out on my back deck at night and hear...nothing. No traffic noises. Serenity.

This census we officially exceeded the 10,000 mark. The small is beginning to leave the town.

Change will bring more money, more people, more traffic, more buildings and more congestion. More stores will build here. Farms will be sold off to become a Wal-Mart or a shopping mall. It will be so light at night that the stars will be hard to see. There will be more noise. I suppose I'll be getting pretty old by then. I'll remember when there was just one pharmacy at the end of a road, on a "T" intersection and about once a year someone would screw up and drive a car right into the front door. I'll remember when people used to drive out on the lake in the winter and sometimes hit a patch of thin ice and then you'd see a pickup truck, well, half of it, sticking up out of the ice. Heck, they used to put chains on motorcycles and race on the ice. The police won't let you out there anymore...I'll remember when the old hotel was still up on the East side, having become a rundown boarding house with a shabby bar on the first floor with a moth-eaten moose head on the wall and the bartender standing where the concierge once stood. I'll remember the dance hall that was built on piers and stood out on the lake, famed for having been popular once, now felled by a suspicious fire and replaced with a public pier. I'll remember when I knew all the police at least by face if not name, and most of the town officials and the entire school board as well...and they all knew me, too.

I guess change is good. When it brings jobs and money it helps people. You can be sure that construction and trade jobs are hopping around here. If the haters move on, that would sure be nice. Change is inevitable. Communities either grow or begin to fall apart. So it is definitely good.

Did I tell you about the guy who put working lampposts on all four corners of his cars? I did? Sorry, must be getting old...repeating myself. Yep, things sure are changing!

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